Category: Food and Drink

My advice for a Paris visit

This is for another friend, here are my pointers:

1. Find a very good food street/corner and take many of your meals there.  I’ve used Rue Daguerre and around Rue des Arts (Left Bank) for this purpose, but there are many others.  Spend most of your money in the cheese shop, asking them to choose for you, but supplement with bread, fruit, and of course chocolate.  This beats most restaurant meals, noting it won’t be cheap either.  And yes it is worth paying $8 for a bar of chocolate there.

2. Do track down medieval Paris, most of all the cathedrals.  This will bring you by other delights as well.

3. Especially on the Left Bank, Paris is one of the very best walking cities.  Avoid Champs-Élysées and environs, a broad-avenued, chain store-intense corruption of what Paris ought to be.  Avoid Jardin Luxembourg and the surrounding parts as well, they are urban deserts.

4. Get a peek of the major bridges over the Seine, if only by traversing them.

5. You don’t in fact have to stand in line to see the Mona Lisa.  It’s a lovely painting, but at this point in human civilization it is OK to skip it.  You don’t need to hear “Bohemian Rhapsody” again either.  But you should go to the top of the Eiffel Tower.  And in the Louvre, don’t neglect the Poussin room, the Michelangelo sculptures, or the Flemish and 17th century works.

6. The Louvre, d’Orsay, Cluny, and Branly (ethnographic) are the essential museums in town.  Check out Grand Palais and Petit Palais for possible exhibits.  When walking around, keep your eye out for posters (yes, posters) advertising exhibits and concerts.

7. If you want to spend forty euros for a very good but not revelatory lunch, find a “cool” area with lots of restaurants and poke your head in at their opening, at 12:30, to ask for a table.  By 12:45 it is too late and you are screwed and back to your favorite cheese shop.  By the way, I don’t think Paris is the best city in which to spend $200 on a meal.

8. In most of the parts of Paris you are likely to frequent, do not try to eat any Asian or “ethnic” foods.  The best restaurants of those kinds are in north Paris, on the way to the airport, but no one visits there.  Couscous in Paris is boring.

9. Belleville is the gentrifying Brooklyn of Paris, with relatively few tourists, if that is what you are looking for.  Avoid Montmartre.  For practical reasons, I’ve spent a lot of my Paris time near Unesco, in a neighborhood that is a bit sterile but very beautiful and it gives you a decent sense of well-to-do residential Paris life.  Develop your mini-Paris residential life somewhere, and make your time there more than just a tourist visit.  The site I should not enjoy but do is Le Dôme des Invalides, also the tomb of Napoleon.

10. The essential Paris movies are lots of Godard (Breathless, Band of Outsiders, others), Jules and Jim, and Triplets of Belleville.  Agnes Varda’s Cléo from 5 to 7 for those with an experimental bent.  Eric Rohmer for something light-hearted.  Amélie and Before Sunset are both rewarding, though at the margin Godard usually is what Americans are lacking.

11. Carry along Hugo and Balzac to read.  Flaubert and Proust are wonderful, but they are more “interior” authors and thus you can imbibe them anywhere.  Do not forget Houllebecq’s Submission.  I do not love most of the well-known non-fiction books on Paris; perhaps they become corrupted through the chance of being truly popular.  Do read Graham Robb’s The Discovery of France and try to dig up a useful architectural guide to the city.  I’m also a big fan of Hazel Rowley’s Tete-a-Tete: Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre.

12. Don’t go expecting Parisians to be rude, I have never (well, once) found that to be the case in more than six months spent in the city.

13. My overall take is this: Paris today is fairly sterile in terms of overall creativity, or for that matter business dynamism.  But Parisians have perfected the art of taste along a number of notable dimensions, like nowhere else in the world.  If your trip allows you to free ride upon those efforts in a meaningful way, it will go very well.

My Tokyo advice for Scott Sumner

Eat both quality French and Italian food there.

They still have real CD shops, if that matters to you.

Spend some time in the underground/subway city parts, maybe Shinjuku station, a few others.

Not sure if the old fish market is still up and running, worth a visit if it is.

Get your iPhone ready for translate functions, print and voice.

Getting lost there is great, don’t obsess over sights.

National Museum. The Western museums are decent but also not essential.

Look for a neighborhood with immigrants.

Sample Tokyo at all possible hours, if you can.

Kinokuniya bookstore is quite good. Overall I don’t love the Roppongi part of town, though, fancy bars and restaurants for expats, though fun in its own way.

Visit a Japanese working class district, such as Ikebukuro, also a major subway stop.

Look for vending machines and collections of vending machines.

The arcades there, including for children, are pretty amazing.

Try Pachinko once.

Tyler

Addendum: Here are the suggestions from Scott’s readers.

Cryptocurrencies in everything

A cryptocurrency called Agrocoin is giving buyers a chance to invest in some of the world’s spiciest peppers.

Mexico’s Amar Hidroponia, which grows only habanero chilis, started selling digital tokens in September as a way to raise capital from smaller investors. Each 500 peso ($27) Agrocoin is backed by a square meter of hydroponic production in Quintana Roo state. The company says it expects to pay a yearly dividend equal to about 30 percent of the cost, depending on output and demand.

Here is the full Bloomberg story.

The decline of German food in America

German food’s decline “reflects the cultural mix of this country toward more Latin American, Asian and African American culture, and less of the mainstay Germanic culture that influenced this country for many decades,” said Arnim von Friedeburg, an importer of German foods and the founder of Germanfoods.org. “The cultural shift is going on, and German culture has to fight or compete to keep its relevance.”

Here is more from Maura Judkis at WaPo.

Russia facts of the day

Vodka, circuses, and public libraries are in decline.

Russians love Lada (why?), microwaves, and IKEA.  And contrary to what many people believe, the population is now growing.

On top of all that, Vladimir Kramnik is playing brilliantly in the Candidates’ Tournament in Berlin.  I don’t know the time series on poisoning spies and double agents with WMD.

For the pointer I thank Ray Lopez.

Mindless Researching

I enjoyed Brian Wansink’s book Mindless Eating–it was well written and filled with creative experiments like the ever filling soup bowl. In the ten years since that time Wansink became not just a media start but an academic star with an h-index of 75 and over 24 thousand citations. In recent years, however, he has had to retract papers in the light of inconsistencies and questions about his data and statistics.

A Buzzfeed article, based in part on emails, now reveals that Wansink was running a brazen p-hacking factory:

The correspondence shows, for example, how Wansink coached Siğirci to knead the pizza data.

First, he wrote, she should break up the diners into all kinds of groups: “males, females, lunch goers, dinner goers, people sitting alone, people eating with groups of 2, people eating in groups of 2+, people who order alcohol, people who order soft drinks, people who sit close to buffet, people who sit far away, and so on…”

Then she should dig for statistical relationships between those groups and the rest of the data: “# pieces of pizza, # trips, fill level of plate, did they get dessert, did they order a drink, and so on…”

…“Work hard, squeeze some blood out of this rock, and we’ll see you soon.”…All four of the pizza papers were eventually retracted or corrected.

In essence, Wansink all but published a study finding green jelly beans cause acne. All hail XKCD.

Is legal marijuana more potent?

Yes, here is Keith Humphreys from Wonkblog:

Although some people believe prohibiting drugs is what makes their potency increase, the potency of marijuana under legalization has disproved that idea. Potency rises in both legal and illegal markets for the simple reason that it conveys advantages to sellers. More potent drugs have more potential to addict customers, thereby turning them into reliable profit centers.

In other legal drug markets, regulators constrain potency. Legal alcohol beverage concentrations are regulated in a variety of ways, including through different levels of tax for products of different strengths as well as constraints on labeling and place of sale. In most states, for a beverage to be marketed and sold as “beer,” its alcohol content must fall within a specified range. Similarly, if wine is distilled to the point that its alcohol content rises too high, some states require it be sold as spirits (i.e., as “brandy”) and limit its sale locations.

As states have legalized marijuana, they have put no comparable potency restrictions in place, for example capping THC content or levying higher taxes on more potent marijuana strains. Sellers are doing the economic rational thing in response: ramping up potency.

How about the Netherlands?:

The study was conducted in the Netherlands, where marijuana is legally available through “coffee shops.” The researchers examined the level of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main intoxicant in marijuana, over a 16-year period. Marijuana potency more than doubled from 8.6 percent in 2000 to 20.3 percent in 2004, which was followed by a surge in the number of people seeking treatment for marijuana-related problems. When potency declined to 15.3 percent THC, marijuana treatment admissions fell thereafter. The researchers estimated that for every 3 percent increase in THC, roughly one more person per 100,000 in the population would seek marijuana use disorder treatment for the first time.

The Dutch findings are relevant to the United States because high THC marijuana products have proliferated in the wake of legalization. The average potency of legal marijuana products sold in the state of Washington, for example, is 20 percent THC, with some products being significantly higher.

I believe that marijuana legalization has moved rather rapidly into being an overrated idea.  To be clear, it is still an idea I favor.  It seems to me wrong and immoral to put people in jail for ingesting substances into their body, or for aiding others in doing so, at least provided fraud is absent in the transaction.  That said, IQ is so often what is truly scarce in society.  And voluntary consumption decisions that lower IQ are not something we should be regarding with equanimity.  Ideally I would like to see government discourage marijuana consumption by using the non-coercive tools at its disposal, for instance by making it harder for marijuana to have a prominent presence in the public sphere, or by discouraging more potent forms of the drug.  How about higher taxes and less public availability for more potent forms of pot, just as in many states beer and stronger forms of alcohol are not always treated equally under the law?

When is coarse grading better?

(8) Coarse Grades: Informing the Public by Withholding Information, by Rick Harbaugh and Eric Rasmusen

Certifiers of quality often report only coarse grades to the public despite having measured quality more finely, e.g., “Pass” or “Certified” instead of “73 out of 100.” Why? We show that coarse grades result in more information being provided to the public because the coarseness encourages those of middling quality to apply for certification. Dropping exact grading in favor of the best coarse grading scheme reduces public uncertainty because the extra participation outweighs the coarser reporting. In some circumstances, the coarsest meaningful grading scheme, pass-fail grading, results in the most information.

Here is the link to American Economic Journal: Microeconomics.  Of course another mechanism favoring coarse grading is that corrupt grades are easier to spot.  If too many one-star Michelin restaurants are slid up to three stars, it is obvious something is going on.  But if on a scale of one hundred a restaurant that ought to be a 67 is given a 73, who is really to say what those numbers are supposed to mean?  There are many market settings where the coarser grading scheme is preferred over the finer alternative.

My Conversation with Charles C. Mann

Here is the audio and transcript, Charles was in superb form.  We talked about air pollution (carbon and otherwise), environmental pessimism, whether millions will ever starve and are there ultimate limits to growth, how the Spaniards took over the Aztecs, where is the best food in Mexico, whether hunter-gatherer society is overrated, Jackie Chan, topsoil, Emily Dickinson, James C. Scott, the most underrated trip in the Americas, Zardoz, and much much more.

Here is one excerpt:

COWEN: But if you had to pick a leading candidate to be the fixed factor, I’m not saying you have to endorse it, but what’s the most likely fixed factor if there is one?

MANN: Well, water is certainly a big candidate. There just really isn’t that much fresh water.

COWEN: But we can price it more, and since we have growing wealth — global economy grows at 4 percent a year — we can subsidize those who need subsidies…

MANN: You’re right. But water’s obviously one of them. But hovering over it is these questions about whether these natural cycles . . . is kind of a fundamental question about life itself. Is an ecosystem an actual system with an integrity of its own, with rules of its own that you violate at your peril? Which is the fundamental premise of the environmental movement. Or is an ecosystem more like an apartment building in which it is just a bunch of people who happen to live in the same space and share a few common necessities?

I don’t think ecology really has settled on this. There’s a guy in Florida, Dan Simberloff, who is a wonderful ecologist who has kind of made a career out of destroying all these models, these elegant models, one after another. So that’s the fundamental guess.

If it turns out that it’s just a collection of factors that we can shift around, that nature’s purely instrumental and we can do with it what we want, then we have a lot more breathing room. If it turns out that there really are these overarching cycles, which seems to be the intuition of the ecologists who study this, then we have less room than we think.

And:

COWEN:  Jared Diamond.

MANN: I think an interesting guy who really should learn more about social sciences.

COWEN: Economics in particular.

MANN: Yes.

COWEN: Theory of common property resources.

MANN: Yeah.

And finally:

MANN: …What I think is the underrated factor is that Cortez was much less a military genius than he was a political genius. He was quite a remarkable politician, really deft. And what he did is . . . The Aztecs were an empire, the Triple Alliance, and they were not nice people. They were rough customers. And there was a lot of people whom they had subjugated, and people whom they were warring on who really detested them. And Cortez was able to knit them together into an enormous army, lead that army in there, have all these people do all that, and then hijack the result. This is an act of political genius worthy of Napoleon.

Self-recommending, and I am delighted to again express my enthusiasm for Charles’s new The Wizard and the Prophet: Two Remarkable Scientists and Their Dueling Visions to Shape Tomorrow’s World.  Here is Bill Easterly’s enthusiastic WSJ review of the book.

Washington, D.C. New York City fact of the day

Washington also seems to be full of economists. We have 10 economists for every one member of the clergy, whereas in New York City there are 15 members of the clergy for every economist.

D.C. is the only major metropolitan area with more economists than clergy.  The Miami area is the one with the highest ratio of chefs to economists.  Here is the source, via Paul Winfree.

The miracle of Israeli water policy

“Israel should have been a water basket case,” says Siegel, listing its problems: 60% of the land is desert and the rest is arid. Rainfall has fallen to half its 1948 average, apparently thanks to climate change, and as global warming progresses, Israel and the whole Levant are expected to become even drier – and from 1948, Israel’s population has grown 10-fold.

During that time, the country’s economy grew 70-fold. But instead of starting to waste water, as happens when a society becomes wealthier, it used its new affluence to implement what Siegel calls “the Israel model” of water management.

That model includes drip irrigation, the world’s highest rate of water reclamation and recycling, high prices when necessary, massive desalination, fixing leaks early and frequently, discouraging gardening, and mandating water-efficient toilets.

Are you listening California?  Here is the article from Ruth Schuster at Haaretz.  Here is Wikipedia on water policy in Israel.  Here is the miracle of Israeli dairy; Israeli cows are far more productive than most other cows, mostly because of technology.

South Korea kimchi deficit fact of the day

If you are going to worry about bilateral deficits, here is one to keep you up at night:

According to South Korea’s World Institute of Kimchi, 89.9 percent of the kimchi purchased by South Korean restaurants in 2016 was imported from China.

The kimchi trade first went into deficit in 2006, triggering soul-searching and a headline-grabbing scandal…

South Korea imported more than 275,000 tonnes of kimchi last year, 99 percent of it from China, the Korea Customs Service (KCS) said, and exported just more than 24,000 tonnes.

The deficit stood at US$47.3 million by value, up 11 percent year-on-year and the largest since the KCS began tracking the data in 2000.

Price is a major factor in the trade, with imports costing just US$0.50 per kilogram in 2016, according to Korea Agro-Fisheries & Food Trade Corp, while exports — primarily destined for Japan — averaged US$3.36 per kilogram…

UNESCO inscribed South Korean kimchi on its intangible cultural heritage list in 2013, saying: “It forms an essential part of Korean meals, transcending class and regional differences.”

Here is the full article, via the excellent Mark Thorson.

Do markets underprovide genetic insurance?

Perhaps you know that both mainstream bananas and chocolate are threatened by blights.  There is even talk of “bananas as we know them” going under, although I believe the hardier (and tastier) Brazilian bananas are in much less danger.  They are also harder to grow, stack, and transport to the United States.

More generally, to the extent societies opt for monocultures, disease can threaten an entire crop.  So when breeding and choosing genetic strains, do markets get this problem right?  Or can we identify a systematic market failure?  Will farmers produce too many kinds of corn of the same kind, or too few?  For background, you might wish to read this Charles C. Mann article.  Here are a few points:

1. In old line Chamberlain-style monopolistic competition theory, producers selected too many product varieties because product differentiation boosted their market power and thus their profits.  Appropriately, people accused him of excessively differentiating his theory from that of Joan Robinson.

2. In the A. Michael Spence product quality papers from 1976-1980, producers with market power choose too little product variety, because they don’t sufficiently count the inframarginal gains from bringing new products to market.

3. There is now a risk/insurance argument.  If you breed and grow a different strain or corn, or simply invest in keeping an old strain around, no single blight can wipe out all the corn.  This is a kind of substitute for corn insurance markets.  I have seen Taleb make a version of these arguments on Twitter, in an anti-GMO context.

4. Is crop insurance that imperfect?  A corn blight won’t succeed right away, and in the meantime the price of corn is going up.  If I am worried about this, I can go long corn.  Admittedly, this is not a hedge for society as a whole against the loss of corn, though it is a hedge for individual investors or farmers.  The biggest losers can purchase some protection.

5. Maybe you just love corn diversity, as I do.  But sticking within an economics context, corn is a pretty small part of most people’s budgets in the United States, but not in rural Mexico.  It is therefore a major potential problem in Mexico but not for most consumers in the United States.  In the U.S., I suspect many corn producers are non-diversified and reap producer surplus, but I don’t have hard data behind those judgments.  Rural Mexicans also find it harder to diversify through asset markets, though they diversify by painting amates and taking up other alternative occupations.

6. You will note that diversity of corn strains persist in rural Mexico, and to a great degree.  It is the United States that has moved much more toward the monoculture.  Of course there may be transitional problems, as part of Mexican agriculture modernizes, but some farmers are left behind with older strains and methods.

7. We can admit that not all gdp is created equally, but then which are the foodstuffs we really could not afford to lose?

7b. Chocolate.

7c. Rice.

7d. Water, a drink.

Yikes!  But mainstream corn and bananas I can do without.

8. Does the Chamberlain mechanism in #1 outweigh the Spence argument in #2?  In today’s food markets, I certainly think so.  So given the risk of extinction, a market structure of monopolistic competition may in fact be better than perfect competition.

How do these arguments apply to the breeding of other living beings?